Set in 1980s Italy, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name revolves around 17 year old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) who lives with his family in their villa and soon witnesses the arrival of the older, charming, American research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer), who is working with Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), and the two of them embark on a tumultuous relationship that lasts over the course of the summer.
On the positive side, much like Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash, which was also set in Italy, Call Me By Your Name is certainly visually appealing and has plenty of style, capturing the many different locations very well and creating a particular ambiance throughout – you can positively feel the heat and imagine you were right there, soaking up all the lovely weather. Also in terms of style, music is also used well and the different piano pieces help to create an appropriate mood, also using existing tracks by artists such as The Psychedelic Furs to inject a little bit of fun when required.
The film is also kept afloat by Armie Hammer’s charismatic performance; looking and sounding an awful lot like Jon Hamm, he continues to prove himself as a cool and inexplicably magnetic actor and because of the way he holds himself throughout the film, interacting a certain way with other characters, he’s quite the interesting figure to be watching on screen. Also, Michael Stuhlbarg’s performance as Elio’s understanding and caring father is subtle and restrained but he’s a likeable character and it’s always somehow comforting whenever he’s around.
But while Call Me By Your Name works as a piece of art, a film that’s pleasing to look at and to listen to, the story is very often uneventful and uninteresting, ultimately taking a very long time to say very little. The first half is decent enough, as we get to know some of the characters, take in the locations and witness the beginning of Elio and Oliver’s growing, often rocky, relationship but it soon becomes clear that Call Me By Your Name is one of those slow-burn drama films where not a lot actually happens as it somewhat relies on the overall mood and the chemistry of the central actors to see it through, but in this case, it doesn’t work well enough, in my opinion. By the third act, the film starts to trudge on towards its conclusion but the story becomes regrettably far less interesting until it overstays its welcome and keeps on going even when the interest has run out. So unfortunately, the film is overlong with a testing pace and doesn’t have a good enough story to provide a strong foundation.
Obviously the main part of the story is the relationship between Elio and Oliver and getting this right it vital to the film’s success but while there are a few select scenes that work quite well, as well as there occasionally being some tangible sensuality between the two of them, the central relationship is not as engaging or as interesting as it should be and the relationship is sometimes tough to buy into, since the sparks between Chalamet and Hammer don’t always fly and they also have a tendency to toy with each other’s emotions, one (often Oliver) pushing the other away and then reconciling quickly soon after, all of which is inconsistent, slightly irksome and just a little bit confusing.
The film’s characters are mostly all a bright, intelligent, friendly and caring bunch of people (with perhaps one exception, more on that later) and the cast certainly give it all they’ve got but a big problem that I have with the characters is that all of their preferred conversation topics are just a bit too highbrow and many of them have a tendency to constantly “chat” about such things as archaeology, philosophy, classical music, the origin of language and even sixteenth century literature, which is particularly alienating to an average joe moviegoer like me and it makes relating to the characters that much harder, since the things that they constantly talk about can come across as elitist and perhaps even a little pretentious.
And although certain praise has been given to Timothée Chalamet for his performance in this film, I don’t think that there’s much depth to his performance and as Elio, although he admittedly has a couple of great moments, he is far too aloof, arrogant, cold and emotionally detached for us (or me, I guess) to genuinely take an interest in what happens to him. Elio does admittedly “soften up” as the film goes on, letting go of his initial resentment of Oliver, but he’s not really a likeable character at all and his standoffish nature and too-cool-for-school demeanour is a regrettable hindrance to the film. Plus, his character essentially does nothing all day besides looking moody and then lazing around reading, swimming and playing/transcribing music over and over and over again. At one point, he even says “I have nothing to do today”! You have nothing to do EVERY day! I know its the summer and all but: get a job!
So, sorry folks – your dahhhhling Timothée Chalamet has yet to win me over! Extra points for helping James Ivory onto the stage at the BAFTAs though . . .